May 2024
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Cedar Bench Wilderness

Goat Springs Trail #542 in the Cedar Bench Wilderness is a relatively unknown gem in a remote part of Yavapai County, about ten miles from Camp Verde, but it’s well worth exploring for its solitude and beautiful creeks with cascading water and some small waterfalls.

This hike was with the Skyliners Hiking Club of Cottonwood, and our group was 23 strong, which meant not much solitude, just friendship and fascination with a great hike. But we were the only ones on the trail, and this was on a weekend, so not many make it out here.

One good reason is that you need a high-clearance vehicle, with the last 2.5 miles unpaved and the last mile pretty slow and brutal. A lone fruit tree greets visitors at the parking lot. This moderate hike is about 4.5 miles long, rising 990 feet in elevation. Hike  leader Ron Condon knew that sometimes the brush along this trail, plentiful with catclaw and some cactus, can make its way onto the trail, so he brought clippers and some of the other hikers did too, to help keep the trail clear.

About 1.5 miles in we came to the promised land as we descended into Chasm Creek. This is a great place for snacks or lunch. I started to munch, but was too distracted by the enticement to rock- and boulder-hop my way down to the largest waterfall I could find. I tried to get under it for a photo, but the rock, even though dry, was really slick. I got pretty close, though! As my mind and body rock-hopped, the group was heading for the next destination, so it was time to catch up, without much of a snack. It was only about a half-mile to the first big stop at Goat Springs. This spring the rocks made it easy to cross the stream, making a great place for more photos. With just a brief stop here we were off again.

Less than half a mile on we came to the upper section of Goat Springs, where beautiful clear water made this the perfect place for lunch. One of our hikers found what he believed to be the origin of the spring. Some flowers were just starting to come out, and I can only imagine what this trail would be like after rains.

Cedar Bench Wilderness, part of the Prescott National Forest, was established in 1984 eith the Arizona Wilderness Act. The area protects the large “bench” that divides the Agua Fria and Verde River drainages.

The wilderness area ranges from 4,500 feet to 6,700 feet in elevation, with saguaro at the lower end and Utah juniper and pinyon pine on the heights. It has eight trails covering 32 miles. Two of the other trails are Lower Cedar Bench Trail 540 and Chasm Creek Trail 164.

Not much has been written about the Cedar Bench Wilderness, which is just one more reason you’ll feel you’re in a special place when you visit.

On the way to Goat Springs Trail you’ll pass the new Rockin Ranch State Park on Salt Mine Road, so if you have time that’s another great place to explore.

Directions: From Camp Verde drive east on Hwy 260 to the Oasis Road junction. Turn right, proceed to Salt Mine Road, and turn right again. Follow Salt Mine Road for 7.2 miles before turning slightly right onto a dirt road labeled Forest Road 574. Continue another 1.1 miles and turn right onto FR 9602J. From there drive another 1.7 miles and park in an old mining area along the road. From there we walked up the road about a tenth-mile to the trailhead for Trail 542.

The trail is fairly easy to follow; the only issue is getting there!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com